Congress Can No Longer Ignore
Corporate Control of the Media
by Rep. Bernie Sanders
Sander's Scoop newsletter, Summer 2002
One of our best-kept secrets is the degree to which a handful
of huge corporations control the flow of information in the United
States. Whether it is television, radio, newspapers, magazines,
books or the Internet, a few giant conglomerates are determining
what we see, hear and read. And the situation is likely to become
much worse as a result of radical deregulation efforts by the
Bush administration and some horrendous court decisions.
Television is the means by which most Americans get their
"news." Without exception, every major network is owned
by a huge conglomerate that has enormous conflicts of interest.
Fox News Channel is owned by Rupert Murdoch, a right-wing Australian
who already owns a significant portion of the world's media. His
network has close ties to the Republican Party, and among his
"fair and balanced" commentators is Newt Gingrich.
NBC is owned by General Electric, one of the largest corporations
in the world - and one with a long history of anti-union activity.
GE, a major contributor to the Republican Party, has substantial
financial interests in weapons manufacturing finance, nuclear
power and many other industries. Former CEO Jack Welch was one
of the leaders in shutting down American plants and moving them
to low-wage countries like China and Mexico.
ABC is owned by the Disney Corp., which produces toys and
products in developing countries where they provide their workers
atrocious wages and working conditions.
CBS is owned by Viacom, another huge media conglomerate that
owns, among other entities, MTV, Showtime, Nickelodeon, VH1, TNN,
CMT, 39 broadcast television stations, 184 radio stations, Paramount
Pictures and Blockbuster Inc.
The essential problem with television is not just a right-wing
bias in news and programming or the transformation of politics
and government into entertainment and sensationalism. Nor is it
just the constant bombardment of advertising much of it directed
at children. It's that the most important issues facing the middle-class
and working people of our country are rarely discussed. The average
American does not see his or her reality reflected on the television
The United States is the only industrialized nation on earth
that does not have a national healthcare program. Yet, despite
41 million people with no health insurance and millions more underinsured,
we spend far more per capita on healthcare than any other nation.
Maybe the reason is that we are seeing no good programs on television,
in between the prescription drug advertisements, discussing how
we can provide quality healthcare for all at far lower per capita
costs than we presently spend?
Despite the great "economic boom" of the 1990s,
the average American worker is now working longer hours for lower
wages than 30 years ago, and we have lost millions of decent-paying
manufacturing jobs. Where are the TV programs addressing our $360
billion trade deficit, or what our disastrous trade policy has
done to depress wages in this country? And while we're on economics,
workers who are in unions earn 30 percent more than non-union
people doing the same work. There are a lot of programs on television
about how to get rich by investing in the stock market. But have
you seen any "specials" on how to go about forming a
The United States has the most unfair distribution of wealth
and income in the industrialized world, and the highest rate of
childhood poverty. There's a lot of television promoting greed
and self-interest, but how many programs speak to the "justice"
of the richest 1 percent owning more wealth than the bottom 95
percent? Or of the CEOs of major corporations earning 500 times
what their employees make?
If television largely ignores the reality of life for the
majority of Americans, corporate radio is just plain overt in
its right-wing bias. In a nation that cast a few million more
votes for Al Gore and Ralph Nader than for George Bush and Pat
Buchanan, there are dozens of right-wing talk show programs. Rush
Limbaugh, G. Gordon Liddy, Bob Grant, Sean Hannity, Alan Keyes,
Armstrong Williams, Howie Carr, Oliver North, Michael Savage,
Michael Reagan, Pat Robertson, Laura Schlessinger - these are
only a few of the voices that day after day pound a rightwing
drumbeat into the heartland of this country.
And from a left perspective there is - well, no one. The Republican
Party, corporate owners and advertisers have their point of view
well represented on radio. Unfortunately, the rest of America
has almost nothing.
As bad as the current media situation is, it is likely to
be made much worse by a recent decision in the District of Columbia
Court of Appeals that responded to a suit by Fox, AOL Time Warner,
NBC and Viacom. That decision struck down a federal regulation
limiting companies from owning television stations and cable franchises
in the same local markets. The court also ordered that the Federal
Communications Commission either justify or rewrite the federal
rule that limits any one company from owning television stations
that reach more than 35 percent of American households.
The bottom line is that fewer and fewer huge conglomerates
are controlling virtually everything that the ordinary American
sees, hears and reads This is an issue that Congress can no longer